One in four drivers in LA’s express lanes aren’t paying to use them

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Rule-breakers are slowing down traffic during peak hours

As Los Angeles continues to lead the nation in traffic jams, opportunistic drivers may be compounding the problem by taking advantage of loose enforcement in Metro’s toll lanes along the 110 freeway. According to the Los Angeles Times, more than 25 percent of drivers who use those lanes on a given day skip out on payment, limiting the effect of the freeway’s demand-based pricing system.

Instituted in 2012, the high-occupancy toll lanes are available to drivers with a FasTrak transponder, which is used to report how many people are traveling in the vehicle at a given time. For much of the day, solo drivers can pay a per-mile rate to use the lanes, but during particularly congested periods, the lanes are open only to vehicles with multiple occupants.

According to the Times, the most common violation seen by Metro is fraudulent transponder adjustment—when drivers falsely report there’s someone else in the car with them to take advantage of reduced tolls or to stay in the express lane during HOV-only periods.

Metro is reportedly developing a new system to automatically detect the number of occupants in a vehicle, but the technology hasn’t yet been rolled out and rule-breaking drivers are clogging up the express lanes, slowing down the rate of traffic.

In response, Metro is also considering stricter rules for carpool lanes, including new fares and a three-occupant requirement for certain lanes.

For the full analysis on the number of drivers cheating tolls, click over to the Times.

Huge South Park development will bring a new park to Downtown LA

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Called South Grand Park, it would be installed right next to a 38-story residential tower

A major new development under construction in Downtown LA’s booming South Park neighborhood will be joined by a small public park, providing a bit of green space right beside the project’s 38-story residential tower.

Developer Mack Urban will present plans for the half-acre park tomorrow to the Downtown Los Angeles Neighborhood Council’s Planning and Land Use Committee. According to a presentation on the project (first spotted by Urbanize LA), designer Rios Clementi Hale Studios has examined three possible concepts for the park, which will be called South Grand Park.

The first design would center the park around a small outdoor performance space with seating arced around it; the second would include a grassy lawn, a treehouse, and a sculptural canopy; the third would have a shallow water feature, room for food vendors, and communal seating.

All three designs would incorporate a paseo through the park, public art features, and a dining terrace extending out from ground-floor restaurant space in the residential high-rise.

After receiving community feedback, Rios Clementi Hale has drafted a design that incorporates popular elements of the different concepts, including food vendors, a water feature, and the treehouse.

The designers will hold a community workshop October 23 to further review plans for the project.

Set amid Mack Urban’s massive mixed use project, developed in partnership with AECOM Capital, the park will be a small part of a multi-phase development set to bring a plethora of new apartments, shops, and restaurants to the area. The first phase of the project—a pair of seven-story structures with 362 apartments—wrapped up earlier this year.

Rendering of community theater design
Rendering of backyard oasis design
Rendering of flexible platform design

Developer scraps plans to tear down West Hollywood’s French Market Place

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Change of plans

West Hollywood’s now-shuttered French Market Place—once a basecamp for LGBT activists—will not be demolished as once feared.

Instead, the former grocery store and restaurant at Santa Monica Boulevard and Laurel Avenue will be resurrected as a sleek new eatery and incorporated into a new office building under new plans filed this month with the city of West Hollywood, developer Faring announced today.

Those plans call for keeping the market place building intact with new offices built above and around it. (The square footage for the offices has yet to be determined, a Faring spokesperson says.) The entire project will be called The French Market.

The restaurant’s facade will be remodeled to “commemorate the LGBT civil rights struggle in America.” It will be wrapped in a bronze relief-sculpture, featuring the faces of local and national LGBT activists, “merging the Market building’s Streamline Moderne and French Revival architectural features with creative office space and ground-level restaurants,” the announcement says.

“Bringing the French Market back to West Hollywood gives this project real soul,” Faring CEO Jason Illoulian said in a statement. “We recognize the connections our community has to this building and this plan will ensure the French Market remains a unique part of WeHo’s future as well.”

The West Hollywood Preservation Alliance has described the French Market Place as a “piece of history,” and the Antebellum blog lovingly dubbed it “the gayest place on earth.”

It opened in 1974 with its “kitschy New Orleans styled interior setting.” But it was more than a restaurant. The building also housed small shops, “including Dorothy’s Surrender, an oh-so-gay Wizard of Oz themed gift boutique.”

According to WeHoville:

Veteran LGBTQ journalist Karen Ocamb notes that the French Quarter “was also the jumping off or come-back point for lots of LGBT political events and a refuge for those needing a break from AIDS protests.” She further reports that the restaurant was crucial in community support for Rob Roberts’ hunger strike on the grassy triangle nearby to urge Gov. Pete Wilson to sign the gay civil rights bill, AB 101.

Faring had originally planned to tear down the French Market Place. It wanted to build a four-story structure with 50,000 square feet of space for offices, 8,600 square feet for a restaurant or restaurants, 4,400 square feet of retail, and 3,200 square feet that could become either a bar or nightclub.

It has changed course to now include strictly ground-floor restaurants with outdoor seating and creative offices. Faring’s new plans will need to be approved by the city before it can move forward.

 via Google Maps
The exterior of the French Market in 2009.

Developer drops plans for Beverly Hills apartments, will build condos instead

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The project has been planned since 2007

A Beverly Hills residential development in the works for more than a decade is moving forward after the city’s planning commission signed off on the project Thursday.

Planned for 9200 Wilshire Boulevard, the project was previously approved in 2007 as a 54-unit condominium structure, but developer New Pacific Realty changed course, resubmitting the project as a 90-unit apartment complex with 5,700 square feet of commercial space.

The developer pitched the rare-for-Beverly Hills apartment project as a necessary boost to the city’s low supply of rental housing. But the revised plans faced stiff resistance from many local residents, who argued that the new development would increase traffic in the area and put a strain on city services.

“The approved 54 condominiums, let alone the sought after 90 [apartments] is outrageous, excessive and unreasonable,” resident Allyson Wittner wrote in a letter to the planning commission, claiming that the project would “alter the quality of life for neighborhood residents with traffic and noise.”

In response to those complaints, as well as the concerns of planning staff, the city formed an ad hoc committee in July to reassess the project. As a result, it was resubmitted with a concept strikingly similar to what was approved in 2007.

The development is now set to include 54 condo units—not apartments—as well 7,303 square feet of commercial space (about half of what was approved in 2007). The project will also have 220 parking spaces, 55 fewer than were originally approved.

Designed by MVE Architects, the project will have a contemporary design with walls of glass and balconies for residents. The complex will be topped by multiple rooftop decks with amenities that include a swimming pool, fitness center, and landscaped open space.

A spokesperson for the architecture firm tells Curbed that a development timeline for the project has not yet been established.

Rendering of 9200 Wilshire at night

Live like a Kardashian in Kris Jenner’s TV home

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The Studio City residence is seeking $7.9 million

Looks like you can keep up with the Kardashians—at least in terms of real estate. This enormous Studio City residence served as the on-screen home of Kris Jenner on 10 seasons of reality TV megahit Keeping up with the Kardashians.

The enterprising matriarch of the Kardashian/Jenner clan never actually lived in the house (Jenner actually resides in the far-less entertainment industry-adjacent community of Hidden Hills), but both fans of the show and guilty hate watchers will recognize the place as the scene of many dramatic family spats over the years.

Built in 1983, the seven-bedroom home last sold in 2005 for $5.225 million, according to property records. In addition to its appearances on Keeping up with the Kardashians, the house has been a filming location for shows ranging from American Horror Story to True Blood, according to listing agent Brandon Assanti of Rodeo Realty Beverly Hills.

The house has 7,843 square feet of living space with luxurious features like a two-story entryway, multiple chandeliers and ornately carved fireplaces, nine enormous bathrooms, and a screening room.

The gated residence sits on a one-acre lot with a rolling lawn, fountains, a large barbecue area, and a swimming pool and spa.

Listed earlier this year for $9 million, the home is back on the market seeking $7.895 million.

Front entrance
Screening room
Master bedroom
Master bathroom
Pool and barbecue area

Spanish-style packed with potential asks $1.5M in Beverly Grove

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It needs a little TLC

Rip out the carpet and linoleum, update the kitchen, roll on fresh paint (preferably not white, please), plant a native garden, and this Spanish-style fixer will be on its way to becoming a stunner. From the kiva fireplace to the coved ceilings to the vintage tile to the stained glass windows to the glorious wood beams, the three-bedroom is packed with potential.

Built in 1928, it sits on a 6,559-square-foot lot in Beverly Grove. In addition to the lovely features mentioned above, the home also boasts a courtyard with an outdoor brick fireplace.

Listing agent Allison Schwarz says the home has been owned by the same family since the 1950s. It’s now on the market for $1.495 million.

460-square-foot condo in Downtown LA’s Bartlett Building asks $395K

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In the Historic Core

This sleekly remodeled studio condo could be a great—albeit compact—score for a buyer looking to get into the action of Downtown Los Angeles. Priced below $400,000, it’s tiny at just 460-square-feet. But it appears to be organized in a smart fashion with a murphy bed and built-in storage.

Features include several big windows, stainless steel appliances and a small eat-in bar in the petite kitchen, hardwood floors throughout, and in-unit washer and dryer.

Located on the seventh floor of the Beaux Arts-style Bartlett Building in the Historic Core, the unit is steps from the historic Broadway corridor and shops and restaurants.

It’s listed for $395,000, with monthly HOA dues of $412.

Midcentury modern in Alhambra with a rooftop deck asks $749K

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Built in 1950, it’s sporting some sleek upgrades

Here’s a neatly designed midcentury modern residence in Alhambra that’s been extensively updated with plenty of upscale bells and whistles in recent years.

Built in 1950, the residence has two bedrooms and two bathrooms spread across two levels and 1,420 square feet of living space. Interior features include walls of glass, hardwood floors, and beamed ceilings.

The open living area is centered around a large fireplace and flows directly into the kitchen and dining space. Glass doors lead out to a patio and deck space surrounded by tall vegetation.

The house sits on a woodsy 5,867-square-foot lot that the listing, for what it’s worth, describes as “private AF.”

The property has a detached garage and a separate studio/office space that’s been recently added. As an added bonus, the home is topped with a rooftop deck that provides a bit of extra space for outdoor seating and views of the San Gabriel mountains.

Asking price is $749,000. Open houses are scheduled Saturday, October 14, and Sunday, October 15, from 2 to 5 p.m.

Living room with stairs in foreground
Kitchen and dining area
Back patio
Rooftop deck

Street vendors may get the OK to sell in city parks

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Street vending is currently allowed on sidewalks

Los Angeles has already legalized some street vending, but new rules about the activity didn’t totally declare open season on selling things from carts in public spaces.

Right now, one of the places where vendors can still be hit with misdemeanor criminal charges for vending is in parks, but a new motion introduced on Tuesday by two Los Angeles City Councilmembers seeks to change that, NBC Los Angeles reports.

The motion, introduced by councilmembers Jose Huizar and Mitch O’Farrell, would be a first step toward decriminalizing vending in city parks. It calls for city staffers to “examine the feasibility … [of removing] the misdemeanor penalty and replace with other penalties to compel compliance without the threat of a criminal charge.”

The move comes as a direct response to the “real fear amongst these most vulnerable” people that minor infractions could be used as cause for deportation, say the motion’s authors.

The motion could close one of the bigger gaps in the legalization of street vending.

While the city took criminal charges off the table for selling goods on sidewalks, those penalties remained in place for vending in parks and selling food from pushcarts, the Los Angeles Times said in October. “Both are typically charged as infractions, but repeated violations for vending in the parks can also be punished as a misdemeanor,” notes the Times.

Plans for a 21-story tower dropped from massive Figueroa Street project

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The Exposition Park development will include housing, retail, and a 298-room hotel

A major new mixed use development proposed for Exposition Park may be a little lower to the ground than earlier plans suggested.

Called The Fig, the project is set to rise at 3900 South Figueroa Street—directly across the street from the under-construction Banc of California Stadium. When developer Spectrum Group Real Estate filed plans for the project last year, it included a 21-story hotel that would rise beside a pair of seven-story residential structures.

Last month, Urbanize LA reported that the tall tower had been cut out from plans for the development, and a new environmental report on the project confirms that it now includes three separate structures—that would each rise seven stories in height.

One building would house a hotel with 298 guest rooms and 15,335 square feet of retail and restaurant space. Another would have 222 units of student housing and 32,991 square feet of space for retail and restaurants. The third building would feature 186 residential units, including 82 that would be set aside for low-income households. It would also have 20,364 square feet of creative offices and 7,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space.

The massive complex would occupy a 4.4-acre project site, requiring the demolition of eight apartment buildings that exist there today. Those structures together contain 32 units.

Combined with the enormous soccer stadium rising across the street, the project could dramatically reshape the stretch of Figueroa Street where it’s proposed. As shiny new high-rises pop up along the corridor to the north, the city is also working on a streetscape project that will line Figueroa Street with protected bike lanes and a host of pedestrian-oriented features extending down to Martin Luther King Boulevard.

If granted city approval, construction on The Fig is expected to last 18 months, wrapping up in 2020.

Affordable apartments planned for South LA would use new transit-oriented incentives

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Part of Measure JJJ, the incentives went into effect last month

A new apartment complex planned for Florence may be the first project to take advantage of new incentives meant to spur development of affordable housing in transit-rich areas.

Plans filed with the city Tuesday call for the demolition of an existing auto shop to make way for a building with 51 units of housing. With the exception of a manager’s unit, each of the apartments would be reserved for extremely low-income tenants (those making under 30 percent of LA’s median income, by U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development standards).

In return for the affordable units, the project’s developer has applied for incentives that would allow it to rise an additional 11 feet and include less open space and a shorter setback than normally required.

These allowances are available through new transit-oriented development guidelines created through Measure JJJ, which Los Angeles voters approved in November. Aimed at forcing developers of large projects to include affordable units and hire local labor, the measure also included new incentives for development near bus stops and train stations.

The Department of City Planning released guidelines for taking advantage of the program last month and Urbanize LA notes that this may be the very first project to utilize the new incentives.

The complex would rise about 1.5 miles from the Blue Line, but it’s also within walking distance of stops for multiple Metro bus lines and a DASH route.

Hawthorne approves SpaceX-adjacent apartment complex

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Both SpaceX and Amazon opposed the project

A major apartment complex is on the way to Hawthorne after the city council approved plans for the mixed use project Tuesday in a contentious meeting that saw councilmembers arguing bitterly for and against the project.

The development is set to bring 230 apartments, along with 3,700 square feet of restaurant space, to the southeastern corner of Crenshaw Boulevard and Jack Northrup Avenue. Just a half-mile from the Green Line, the project site is directly across the street from SpaceX and backs up against an Amazon shipping center.

Mayor Alex Vargas told the council that both companies had concerns about the project and asked that representatives from those companies be allowed to speak in a new public hearing session, though one had already been held in September.

Vargas suggested the new hearing would allow the council to consider lower density options for the project, which was initially proposed with 274 units of housing, as the Daily Breeze reports.

“Why not 200? Why not 150?” Vargas asked, suggesting that councilmembers had secretively contacted the project’s developer, Blackwood Real Estate, to reach a deal for the 230-unit version of the project.

Councilmember Angie Reyes English in turn accused the mayor, a former councilmember, SpaceX, and the city’s planning department of colluding “to trash this project.”

Eventually, the council voted 3-2 against reopening the public hearing.

“There is nothing left to discuss,” said Councilmember Olivia Valentine. “We have heard from all sides on this issue.”

In another 3-2 vote, the council approved the project, with Mayor Vargas and Councilmember Nilo Michelin casting the no votes.

Both the mayor and Michelin argued that the project was inappropriate for the area.

“We have an industrial zone and a residential zone,” said Michelin. “If we put a factory in the middle of a residential zone, it wouldn’t make any sense. Same thing if we put apartments right in the middle of an industrial zone.”

But Valentine argued that the transit-oriented development would bring housing and restaurant space in close proximity to a major train stop, paving the way for future commercial and residential development.

“If you don’t take a risk and make some changes, changes will not happen,” she said.

The weird occult origins of Downtown’s famous Bradbury Building

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Legend has it a ghost told the building’s architect to take the job

This story was originally published in July 2015 and has been updated with the most recent information.

The timeless, fantastic Bradbury Building at Broadway and Third Street is a much-beloved Downtown Los Angeles landmark, most widely known for its significant appearances in movies including the original Blade Runner, (500) Days of Summer, and Marlowe, starring the late James Garner.

But the popular film set also has a lesser-known occult connection. Avery Trufelman, producer of the design and architecture podcast 99 Percent Invisible, talked to Esotouric operators Kim Cooper and Richard Schave about the eerie history of what 99 PI calls “arguably the biggest architectural movie star of Los Angeles.”

The edifice was the idea of a gold-mining magnate who really wanted to put his name on a building. His vision led him to turn down a prominent architect and mysteriously commission a totally untrained one instead, and that not-quite-architect, George H. Wyman, turned to ghosts and literature to pull it off.

As the story goes, Lewis Bradbury, a gold-mining millionaire, decided he wanted to build and put his name on a building, so, in 1892, he commissioned prominent architect Sumner P. Hunt, who alone and with partners would design the Southwest Museum, the Ebell Club, the Automobile Club in University Park, and loads of private homes for wealthy clients throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

 Nagel Photography /

Hunt prepared some plans for the proposed building, but when Bradbury visited the office to check them out, none of the designs impressed him.

Here’s where things got weird.

As Bradbury was leaving the office, he noticed Hunt’s draftsman, a young man named George H. Wyman. Wyman had zero training or experience as an architect at this point, but Bradbury, for reasons still not really known to anyone, walked up to Wyman and offered him the chance to design a large, high-profile, half-million-dollar office building.

 FiledIMAGE /

Wyman was initially and justifiably “weirded out.” He was totally unqualified for the job, and, in taking the commission, he would essentially be stealing a client from his boss. Unsure of how to proceed, Wyman decided to consult someone wiser: his dead brother.

To do this, Wyman employed a planchette, which looks exactly like the instrument that everyone puts their hands on to navigate a Ouija board. This planchette has a pencil attached, and so instead of indicating letters one by one, it writes out whole words and sentences. At the time, spiritualism was very much in fashion, says Esotouric’s Cooper, and planchettes “would typically be consulted when someone had an issue that they wanted some guidance on.”

In Wyman’s case, he and his wife sat down together, put their hands on the planchette, and asked Wyman’s dead brother whether to take the job. “In a very childish, script hand,” Cooper says, the mystical device wrote out the phrase “take Bradbury … you will be … .” After that, there was a word that at first appeared to be gibberish, but when read upside-down, it supposedly said “successful.” Take Bradbury and you will be successful? Okay! The dead brother came through, and the job was a go.

 Courtesy of Michael Locke

And Wyman was successful. The Bradbury was such an invigorating project that he eventually went to school and became an actual architect. As for Wyman’s first big commission, the Bradbury has a kind of timeless versatility that’s led it to play a diverse set of locations—a Burmese hotel, a seedy office building, a futuristic ruin.

It’s said that Wyman’s inspiration for the building’s design was directly inspired by a novel, Looking Backwards by Edward Bellamy, a popular science fiction novel about a utopian society that was published in 1888.

A passage from that book describes this incredible building in the future (which, in those days, was 2000): “a vast hall full of light received not alone from the windows on all sides, but from the dome.”

Frank Sinatra’s secluded desert estate still looking for a buyer

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The Palm Desert property is asking $3.7 million

A swank desert compound once owned by music legend Frank Sinatra just can’t seem to find a buyer. Known as Villa Maggio, the remote Coachella Valley property listed in 2013, 2015, and 2016, but each time failed to sell.

Now, the 7.5-acre spread is back on the market, as the Los Angeles Times reports. The price has come down a bit too; it’s now asking $3.695 million—about $205,000 below the listing price this time last year.

Sinatra commissioned the estate in 1967, naming it after the character he played in From Here to Eternity (Angelo Maggio) and using the rustic home as a more secluded getaway from his more famous desert retreat in Rancho Mirage (he had already sold his E. Stewart Williams-designed Palm Springs residence by the time this property was constructed).

Perched high above the Palm Desert, the gated compound consists of three separate buildings: a five-bedroom main house, along with a guest house and pool house with two bedrooms. There’s also a swimming pool, spa, tennis court, and even a helipad (the listing notes that the home is 26 miles from the Palm Springs airport—”a short jaunt by helicopter”).

Interior features of the residence include planked walls, vaulted and beamed ceilings, and enormous stone fireplaces in the living room and master bedroom. Glass sliding doors lead to long decks with views across the surrounding mountains.

Will the lowered asking price help the home finally find a new owner?

Aerial view of the property
View of property with pool

Highland Park fire takes out two landmarked turn-of-the-century homes

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A campaign to preserve the houses saved them from demolition in the 1980s

A Tuesday morning fire ravaged two historic Highland Park homes on Avenue 53 near Monte Vista—homes that preservationists had work so hard to save in the late 1980s, reports Eastsider LA.

The Reeves House at 219 North Avenue 53 and the Morrell House next door at 215 North Avenue 53 were built in the early 1900s. They were nominated for Historic-Cultural landmark status in 1988 to prevent them from being demolished for new apartment building construction. They were awarded the status that same year.

The fire “apparently gutted the Reeves house and then spread next door to the Morrell House,” says the Eastsider. The cause of the fire is still under investigation.

The Craftsman Morrell House was built in 1906 and designed by Charles E. Shattuck, an architect “known for country club designs and who designed the first mausoleum in Southern California,” Charles J. Fisher told the Los Angeles Times in 1988.

The Reeves House, a Colonial Revival home, was built in 1904.

The landmarking of these houses and several others in 1988 spared them from demolition and helped establish the large historic district that includes much of Highland Park, Eastsider says.